"This is Mr. George. He will teach you many things, about many kinds of things...and he will make you laugh."
My mouth goes dry as my palms begin to sweat. I try to suppress my shocked expression - in front of the classroom full of 9-year-olds - as the Headmaster hands me a piece of chalk, steps aside, and lays his eyes upon me expectantly. It's at this point in the story that I should tell you that I am not a teacher. I have never taught a class before, and hadn't planned on starting now. Nevertheless, I turned to the class, took a deep breath, and let out a feeble, "Namaste…"
The adventure was over.
A month of safaris, paragliding, getting lost too many times to remember, hiking the Himalaya, dodging bedbugs, making new friends, leaving old ones...I had spent over a month in Nepal and had done what I came there to do. Now I was back in Balaju, a quiet suburb (on the verge of rural) outside of downtown Kathmandu. I was with a family I had stayed with previously and had a week before leaving for the States. I had been planning to head back to Thamel - the downtown commercial tourist trap cesspool - that now carried an odd familiar warmth, the same way that Times Square does for locals who have been away from New York City for a long time. I was looking forward to spurning the tiger balm salesmen and hanging out at the tourist joints, people watching, and gathering some overpriced souvenirs. The adventure was over, I told myself.
That morning, as I sipped my minty coffee (that adjective is not an accident), my host - let's call him Gary for the sake of identity protection - Gary asked me if I would like to teach at a school nearby. It should be noted that although Gary's English was very good, every so often, idiomatic phrases would fall through the cracks and I assumed this was the case here. I am not a teacher. I like to think that I give instruction reasonably well, and my friends might accuse me of being pedantic on occasion (especially when using words like "pedantic"). But it must be distinctly understood that I have never been formally trained as an educator nor had I declared any such ability to my host.
Consequently, I assumed that "teaching" meant "tour a Nepalese school" or at the most "show and tell your American". Students would ask a few questions: Where are you from? What is it like there? Bada-bing bada-boom, time to skedaddle. Content in this blissful ignorance, I accepted the teaching contract. After breakfast, Gary's father walked me through the dusty streets and delivered me to a school teacher on her way to school, the way an apple is presented to a devoted educator. The suburban enclave in Balaju rustled gently in the morning sun as we arrived at the black iron gates of the school.
I was hurriedly introduced to the headmaster. A man of 50 some odd years, blessed with a rich olive complexion, and dressed in a grey suit. He told me to sit on the porch as class would begin shortly. As I watched the children play football (the true world religion, don't let anyone tell you otherwise) in the shadow of the 3 story concrete schoolhouse, I thought optimistically that perhaps I'd simply be observing. Boy was I wrong.
"Namaste." the children answer.
"Good morning." I say, redundantly.
"Good morning." they parrot, already a bit wary of this strange substitute standing before them.
I take a look at the Headmaster - who, at least in my imagination, appears to be smiling maniacally - and I decide it's time to jump in. With a flurry of chalk dust and overstated enthusiasm I write on the board while saying aloud:
"I...am...from...New York City."
"I...work...at...a...Chinese food restaurant."
I spin around with a chipper, "Any questions?"
At this point, I can feel my mouth move but I'm not sure what I'm saying. The 9-year-old faces grow long and weary until suddenly I blurt out, "Who wants to hear a song?". The class nods in relative excitement and I dive into the deep end. I begin with a little beatbox. Some tapping on the desks. I throw some melody out ("8 Days A Week", Lennon/McCartney your check is in the mail). I'm in. The class is smiling and clapping and bopping around. I look over and notice the Headmaster is gone.
I sing a few more songs while trying to come up with my next trick. Scouring my brain for some rabbit to pull out of my metaphorical hat, I reach deep down, and pull out the first thing that comes out.
"Today we're going to learn haikus," I say. "Who knows what a poem is?"
All hands up.
"Who knows what a syllable is?"
All hands down. Minor setback. No matter, we'll substitute words for syllables. 5 words. 7 words. 5 words. Following a brief history lesson, ("haikus are poems invented somewhere in Japan at some point in history…") I write on the board:
Tea is good for me
I like to drink tea and milk
Tea I like the most
Give me a break, I'm under pressure. Confident in my newfound pedagogical abilities I ask the class to take out a sheet of paper and draw spaces for each word. We fill them out, Mad Lib-style, and present them to the rest of the class. I sit back, beaming like a proud parent.
At this point, the Headmaster suddenly reappears and relieves me of my duties with a real teacher. I bid the students farewell and let out a sigh. Not a bad curriculum really. Intros, songs, haikus. I could do this all day, I think proudly.
"Ready for a bigger class?" asks the Headmaster. The chalk slips from my grasp, as my mouth goes dry, and my legs quiver once more.